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On The Natural Faculties   


And, of course, if it were to be overwhelmed with a great quantity of blood, it would perish, while if it were to be entirely deprived of blood it would remain inoperative and would not turn into a nature. Therefore, in order that it may not perish, but may become a nature in place of semen, there must be an afflux to it of a little blood- or, rather, one should not say a little, but a quantity commensurate with that of the semen. What is it then that measures the quantity of this afflux? What prevents more from coming? What ensures against a deficiency? What is this third overseer of animal generation that we are to look for, which will furnish the semen with a due amount of blood? What would Erasistratus have said if he had been alive, and had been asked this question? Obviously, the semen itself. This, in fact, is the artificer analogous with Phidias, whilst the blood corresponds to the statuary's wax.

Now, it is not for the wax to discover for itself how much of it is required; that is the business of Phidias. Accordingly the artificer will draw to itself as much blood as it needs. Here, however, we must pay attention and take care not unwittingly to credit the semen with reason and intelligence; if we were to do this, we would be making neither semen nor a nature, but an actual living animal. And if we retain these two principles- that of proportionate attraction and that of the non-participation of intelligence- we shall ascribe to the semen a faculty for attracting blood similar to that possessed by the lodestone for iron. Here, then, again, in the case of the semen, as in so many previous instances, we have been compelled to acknowledge some kind of attractive faculty.

And what is the semen? Clearly the active principle of the animal, the material principle being the menstrual blood. Next, seeing that the active principle employs this faculty primarily, therefore, in order that any one of the things fashioned by it may come into existence, it [the principle] must necessarily be possessed of its own faculty. How, then, was Erasistratus unaware of it, if the primary function of the semen be to draw to itself a due proportion of blood? Now, this fluid would be in due proportion if it were so thin and vaporous, that, as soon as it was drawn like dew into every part of the semen, it would everywhere cease to display its own particular character; for so the semen will easily dominate and quickly assimilate it- in fact, will use it as food. It will then, I imagine, draw to itself a second and a third quantum, and thus by feeding it acquires for itself considerable bulk and quantity. In fact, the alterative faculty has now been discovered as well, although about this also has not written a word. And, thirdly the shaping faculty will become evident, by virtue of which the semen firstly surrounds itself with a thin membrane like a kind of superficial condensation; this is what was described by Hippocrates in the sixth-day birth, which, according to his statement, fell from the singing-girl and resembled the pellicle of an egg. And following this all the other stages will occur, such as are described by him in his work "On the Child's Nature."

But if each of the parts formed were to remain as small as when it first came into existence, of what use would that be? They have, then, to grow. Now, how will they grow? By becoming extended in all directions and at the same time receiving nourishment. And if you will recall what I previously said about the bladder which the children blew up and rubbed, you will also understand my meaning better as expressed in what I am now about to say.

Imagine the heart to be, at the beginning, so small as to differ in no respect from a millet-seed, or, if you will, a bean; and consider how otherwise it is to become large than by being extended in all directions and acquiring nourishment throughout its whole substance, in the way that, as I showed a short while ago, the semen is nourished. But even this was unknown to Erasistratus- the man who sings the artistic skill of Nature! He imagines that animals grow like webs, ropes, sacks, or baskets, each of which has, woven on to its end or margin, other material similar to that of which it was originally composed.

But this, most sapient sir, is not growth, but genesis! For a bag, sack, garment, house, ship, or the like is said to be still coming into existence [undergoing genesis] so long as the appropriate form for the sake of which it is being constructed by the artificer is still incomplete. Then, when does it grow? Only when the basket, being complete, with a bottom, a mouth, and a belly, as it were, as well as the intermediate parts, now becomes larger in all these respects. "And how can this happen?" someone will ask. Only by our basket suddenly becoming an animal or a plant; for growth belongs to living things alone. Possibly you imagine that a house grows when it is being built, or a basket when being plated, or a garment when being woven? It is not so, however. Growth belongs to that which has already been completed in respect to its form, whereas the process by which that which is still becoming attains its form is termed not growth but genesis. That which is, grows, while that which is not, becomes.

4. This also was unknown to Erasistratus, whom nothing escaped, if his followers speak in any way truly in maintaining that he was familiar with the Peripatetic philosophers. Now, in so far as he acclaims Nature as being an artist in construction, even I recognize the Peripatetic teachings, but in other respects he does not come near them. For if anyone will make himself acquainted with the writings of Aristotle and Theophrastus, these will appear to him to consist of commentaries on the Nature-lore [physiology] of Hippocrates- according to which the principles of heat, cold, dryness and moisture act upon and are acted upon by one another, the hot principle being the most active, and the cold coming next to it in power; all this was stated in the first place by Hippocrates and secondly by Aristotle. Further, it is at once the Hippocratic and the Aristotelian teaching that the parts which receive that nourishment throughout their whole substance, and that, similarly, processes of mingling and alteration involve the entire substance. Moreover, that digestion is a species of alteration- a transmutation of the nutriment into the proper quality of the thing receiving it; that blood-production also is an alteration, and nutrition as well; that growth results from extension in all directions, combined with nutrition; that alteration is effected mainly by the warm principle, and that therefore digestion, nutrition, and the generation of the various humours, as well as the qualities of the surplus substances, result from the innate heat; all these and many other points besides in regard to the aforesaid faculties, the origin of diseases, and the discovery of remedies, were correctly stated first by Hippocrates of all writers whom we know, and were in the second place correctly expounded by Aristotle. Now, if all these views meet with the approval of the Peripatetics, as they undoubtedly do, and if none of them satisfy Erasistratus, what can the Erasistrateans possibly mean by claiming that their leader was associated with these philosophers? The fact is, they revere him as a god, and think that everything he says is true. If this be so, then we must suppose the Peripatetics to have strayed very far from truth, since they approve of none of the ideas of Erasistratus. And, indeed, the disciples of the latter produce his connection with the Peripatetics in order to furnish his Nature-lore with a respectable pedigree.

Now, let us reverse our argument and put it in a different way from that which we have just employed. For if the Peripatetics were correct in their teaching about Nature, there could be nothing more absurd than the contentions of Erasistratus. And, I will leave it to the Erasistrateans themselves to decide; they must either advance the one proposition or the other. According to the former one the Peripatetics had no accurate acquaintance with Nature, and according to the second, Erasistratus. It is my task, then, to point out the opposition between the two doctrines, and theirs to make the choice....

But they certainly will not abandon their reverence for Erasistratus. Very well, then; let them stop talking about the Peripatetic philosophers. For among the numerous physiological teachings regarding the genesis and destruction of animals, their health, their diseases, and the methods of treating these, there will be found one only which is common to Erasistratus and the Peripatetics- namely, the view that Nature does everything for some purpose, and nothing in vain.

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